• Теодора Иванова

Combining the social, the entrepreneurship and the diversity or simply diving into the changemaking

DIVERS- a group of brave youth workers, longing to dig deep into the social entrepreneurship, aiming to create solutions for the young people at risk of exclusion. Very resistant to extreme heat waves, bugs and effective even after prolonged parties.

The Erasmus + projects have this ability to get together diverse people, to roll them through a mixture of adventures just for a short amount of time and to make them friends and partners.

Horse riding, bridge building, steps ahead, Ikigai, stepping in others shoes, morning exercising, exploring diversity, crocheting with the local grannies, discussing, feet in the water, sharing, hiking, mapping social enterprises, prototyping, questioning potential clients, developing solutions, mastering Indian dances, presenting fuck ups, modelling business ideas, pitching, competing, eating local food, overcoming fear, shyness and language difficulties, motivating and this enormous watermelon - can you imagine this in only 6 days. It is overwhelming, yet highly satisfying.

The participants

This summer the SoDivers project got together participants from 11 nationalities, representing 8 countries. We had Pakistan, India, Egypt, Portugal, Belgium, Poland, Italy and the Balkan countries - Greece, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria in our map of nationalities. Covid situation prevent from arriving the participants of the two others partnering countries - Spain and United Kingdom and they joined us virtually for some parts of the training. The diverse background and role of trainees allowed us to enable collaboration among experienced NGO professionals and youth workers, as well as organizational volunteers that are students in areas of economics, social sciences, medicine and pharmacy, freelancers and beginners entrepreneurs, designers, corporate specialists - all of them working with young people at risk, activists for inclusion and equality and wannabe changemakers.

The training team

The team was fanstastic; Passionate, knowledgable,energetic and professional

Theodora Ivanova (Bulgaria) (lead trainer) with over 20 years of work in design, management and leading training modules and programs and with experience in training for various target groups and topics such as fundraising, social entrepreneurship, BMC, communications, crowdfunding, project design & management; diversity and inclusion, career guidance for young people at risk. As a project manager and the training team, she organized the work of the trainers and lead the preparation of the content and methodology. She presented the main part of the topics in the course on social economy and the tools related to development of the entrepreneurial ideas (value proposition) and the business model.

Anita Jones (Bulgaria) is an expert with experience in developing and conducting youth activities and training in the field of non-formal education, active citizenship, intercultural dialogue, volunteering and youth participation. Serious experience in working with young people from vulnerable groups, career development programs and integration into the work environment of young people of Roma origin. Anita is a specialist in group dynamics, reflection and sensitive training for effective communication, interpersonal understanding and empathy and in this capacity planed and organized the tools and everything related to group dynamics, feedback modules and self-reflection. She conducted the lectures on diversity and inclusion as well.

Ivelina Gadjeva (Bulgaria) is an inclusive designer and specialist in design thinking, creativity, development of services, projects and programs for people with different needs. Having solid expertise in working with young and vulnerable people, she led the modules for creativity, idea generation, design thinking and prototyping, as well as the special activities dedicated to empathy building and getting into each other's shoes experience.

Mariakiara Barra (Poland) complemented the team with her expertise in youth projects, volunteering, exchanges and presented to the participants the framework of the European Union's youth programs in the current programming period.

The project goal

The main goal of the project is the development of the competencies of the youth workers and NGO teams in the field of the social entrepreneurship as an alternative option for ensuring equality and employment for young people and the financial stability of the civil society organizations. The training course aimed to provide in a systemic manner a set of concepts, principles, and processes of the social economy; the examples from practice; the steps in the developing of the social entrepreneurship model and skills necessary to apply numerous techniques and tools, as well as to provide the opportunities for practical learning.

The training

Practically applicable and "tailored" to the civic practitioners training needs. The training course provided the set of concepts, principles and processes of the social economy, the real-life examples, the steps in developing the model of social entrepreneurship and the skills needed to apply numerous techniques and tools. It worked on the attitudes for enabling inclusion and equality through social economy and gave opportunities for practical learning.

I liked the flow, I did't feel bored and was not too tired. I learned quite a lot even at crazy heat levels

The inniatial part of the agenda guided the participants to the path of transformation from individuals to a group. Time was dedicated to orvecoming communication bariers, self observing, getting to know our motivation and strenghts, passions and plans as well as our hopes and fears.

Let's start together - allowed to practice and improve the presenting skills, test speaking in front of an audience and breaking down the barrier to communicating in a foreign language (which of course did all the training, especially with participants was the first such experience in a multilingual and multicultural environment).

Social construction - improved the understanding of the subtle differences that can come from "translation errors", teamwork and decision-making, as well as self-reflection on naming and revealing one's own fears and basic expectations.

Overcoming communication differences - the session proved to be key to understanding the differences. Participants improved their skills in communicating with other cultures and in observing values ​​and cultural characteristics "below" and "above" the surface, including norms of behavior based on gender, understanding and sexual orientation.

Self-assessment tools - participants were introduced to some basic methods of feedback, giving constructive feedback and learned how to ask questions about self-reflection of the day, as well as techniques on how to overcome negative emotions and experiences of the day and integrate them into yourself (in a positive way).

We dived deeper and explored our understanding of the nature of the social entrepreneurs and our readiness to become such. The active discussion, real-life examples and finally the IKIGAI experience completed the circle of our survey and the day finished with ready-to-be changemakers eager to explore further the social business opportunities.

Day to lead us to explore the concept, history and reality of the social economy giving lecture and examples of the many aspects of the social enterprises ecosystem. Later we have dived into exploring our biases and life paths, challenging our ability of empathy - the young people gave a better idea of ​​their start and current position in life, what led to what helped them and what hindered them. This part of the training strongly affected many of the participants and had specific effects on the group as whole. On one side the understanding of concepts such as unconscious bias, privilege, stereotypes, prejudice, micro-aggression, inclusion was improved. This was an important basis for the next sessions related to the development of empathy and putting "in the other's shoes", which in turn will help them work with their youth and groups in unequal behavior. On the other side the additional cohesion and support of the group for more vulnerable participants helped to better understand the differences, as well as to establish our own value and self-confidence as individuals.

In the "Dine into my shoes", participants immersed themselves (using various gadgets such as glasses, tinted in different ways, coins on the fingers, mimicking arthritis, headphones, hearing loss, etc.) in the feelings and in experiencing daily lives of people with varying degrees of physical disability in order to understand what "empathy" is and why the ability to understand diversity and create conditions is important.

I liked the challenge the most, which was to wear different pairs of glasses during dinner, which were modified to simulate a certain vision defect, an illness or even blindness. Each of us found this activity frustrating, but it made us aware that there are people who live like this every day.

From this moment we stepped on the path of the changemakers following the cycles of observation-ideation-creation-validation-modelling-evaluation of the social entrepreneurship ideas. The ideation part steps on the techniques of Design Thinking, Inclusive Design / Design for All / Universal Design, Creativity. Inclusive Design uses human diversity as a driver and source for finding innovative solutions and Design for all is a strategy for identifying, discovering challenges to be solved. Then the creative processes allows to develop new paths and challenge our existing solutions and to create a value-added business strategy. Exploring tools and methods for generating ideas and acquiring knowledge for working with practical tools for unleashing the imagination, creating new ideas and concepts helped to develop skills on how to find solutions for "people" and not for "consumers". We went through mind mapping (by Anthony Peter "Tony" Buzan), The checklist (by Alex Osborne), s.c.a.m.p.e.r. (by Bob Eberle), Six thinking hats (by Edward de Bono) and the day took us to the city of Bansko where the Divers met real life and got straight into the life of the locals - trying to find their secrets. Some added value to the study visit gaining skills of crocheting and enjoying the swimming pool.

The following days we submerged into the process of creation and development of the solutions. One step at a time we mastered the Startegyser's business model toolset developed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. Starting with the creation of the Value Model from defining the customers profiles to providing solutions to their jobs, pains and gains, acknowledging the differences between the customers and the beneficiaries, our divers created the value map of some promising solutions in various areas - inclusion of migrant girls, innovative psychological support to addicted youths, a new model overcoming employment challenges and preventing burnouts, accessible online studying for deaf university students.

The process continued with prototyping the solutions and set of options for testing possible solutions - both products and services. Prototyping is a practical visualization of an otherwise abstract idea to gather feedback and is a quick way to test various aspects such as usability, understanding of a concept, uses, etc. and make timely changes, to reduce the risk, to consider the necessary resources. Validating their solutions, the teams continued the next day with exploring and developing their Business Model Canvas - completing the whole nine building blocks thus creating realistic business model of their social entrepreneurship solutions. The BMC is a simple solution that allows to visualize and provides simple practical tools to understand, design and implement a new business model. The Value proposition Canvas is a structural element of the BMS that focuses of the main building blocks of the BMC - customer profile and the value proposition.

To add more pressure and practice the real-life situation our team put the divers to a simulation of an impact investment competition making the teams to pitch their ideas and compete for funding the developed business models. As in a real-life competition a lot of efforts were made, the emotions were high, and the teams invested in developing skills for presenting and championing their ideas. The score was tight, and two teams shared the winning place.

Vital part of our journey were the instruments and daily routine for reflection. At the end of each day, we ended with a circle for reflection and feedback, where everyone could ask additional questions for clarification, share about themselves and the day, and together we discussed what new knowledge and competencies were presented and developed during the day. Due to the deeply experiential nature of some of the activities, these circles were very important for closing the process of the day and extracting the positive experiences. Some of the methods used for reflection were individual conversations, group reflection, self-reflection tools (e.g. color dice with questions, cards for self-reflection and self-coaching, developed especially for training, poster with questions for the day, Dixit cards, etc.); three large posters on the wall, where participants could anonymously write what they like, what they want to improve and what they are grateful for; box for "negatives" - it remained empty until the end of the training and we used it as a tool to reduce the tension and anxiety of young people before their final presentations in the competition for social entrepreneurship on the last day. Everyone wrote a big concern, we collected them and threw them in the box, stickers for positive messages and affirmation to colleagues (what they learned from each other, what they like about each other, etc.

The reflection sessions were a good choice for this project, I liked this idea, it helped us to realize what we have accumulated throughout the day.

Separately, the trainers also had individual and small group conversations to support the learning process and feedback where needed, debriefing with specific questions after the sessions to support what was learned from the presentation or activity, to reinforce the basic concepts presented, as well as to enable trainers to receive feedback.

Additional added value to the training were the two special nights of Organizational Fair and FuckUp night that provided space to share ideas, current work, and issues that the youth workers are dealing with, as well as the opportunity to share the failures and learn from them. The last is especially valued in the entrepreneurial environment as among the other things it trains the attitude and the ability to deal fast with the bad experience, to learn from it and to move on, not letting yourself to depression and burnout.

The training in numbers and achievements


techniques for self-assessment, observation and reflection


​techniques for monitoring and assessing needs


techniques for design, creativity and decision making


​prototyping techniques


​techniques for evaluation and validation of resistance


Value Proposition Model


Business Model Canvas

We created a social economy map for SoDivers and looked at 30 examples and models of social business

We challenged ourselves to see and compare our points of view, to empathize with others and to get out of our comfort zone

We reviewed our knowledge of equality, equity and inclusion,

We evaluated our own stereotypes and way of life

We discussed and shared our biggest failures

We competed for the best business model